Archive for Braves

The Legal Case for Challenging Chief Wahoo

If Canadian indigenous-rights activist Douglas Cardinal had had his way, the Cleveland Indians would have been legally prohibited from playing Games 3 through 5 of the American League Championship Series in their standard road uniforms. According to a lawsuit filed by Cardinal on Friday in Ontario Superior Court, both Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo mascot as well as the “Indians” team name itself are racially offensive and discriminatory, in violation of Canada’s Human Rights Act (which generally prohibits businesses from “differentiat[ing] adversely” between citizens on the basis of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation).

Although Judge Thomas McEwen announced on Monday afternoon that he would not be issuing an injunction blocking Cleveland from wearing its normal uniforms during the ALCS, the legal proceedings have nevertheless brought renewed attention to Cleveland’s use of what are, in the minds of many, racially insensitive team insignias.

This raises the question of whether Cleveland’s — or, for that matter, the Atlanta Braves’ — team name or logos are at risk of being successfully contested in the United States. Indeed, considering that a U.S. federal court ruled last year that several trademarks belonging to the National Football League’s Washington Redskins must be cancelled due to their disparaging nature, it is entirely possible — and perhaps even probable — that Cleveland or Atlanta could soon face a trademark challenge of its own in U.S. federal court.

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Freddie Freeman Is Lifting Up the Braves

There’s a danger in waiting to write a post about how the narrative surrounding a particular statistic, because the statistics are always changing. I’ve been meaning to write a post about the Atlanta Braves for a while, and specifically, the Atlanta Braves’ offense. I got the inspiration to write about the Braves offense last week, when some sorting of leaderboards for an entirely differnet topic led me to the realization that the Braves had had baseball’s best second-half offense, up until that point. “The Braves Have Had Baseball’s Best Something” would be the headline, and I would take a look at all the young, exciting players that have fueled this second-half surge for the Braves, and how it bodes well for the future of their rebuild.

Well, things change. The Braves no longer have had baseball’s best anything, because they no longer have baseball’s best second-half offense. That honor goes to the Dodgers. The Braves have now had baseball’s second-best second-half offense, and that’s not nearly as compelling a title. And the more I looked into it, my hypothesis for a narrative just didn’t hold up anyway. Honestly, in the grand scheme of things, this second-half offensive surge by Atlanta isn’t all that interesting. The part that’s interesting is that Freddie Freeman has been so damn good, he’s tricked an entire team into appearing compelling.

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How to Judge the Atlanta Braves’ Rebuild

Atlanta Braves fans are waiting for their team to be consistently good again. After winning the division handily in 2013 but losing in the NLDS, the team fired general manager Frank Wren at the end of the following year. They replaced him with a duo: president of baseball pperations John Hart and GM John Coppolella. These two combined with longtime Braves executive John Schuerholz to form the team’s new brain trust.

They began rebuilding immediately. That offseason they sent familiar faces Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton and Melvin Upton Jr. all packing. They signed longtime Oriole Nick Markakis. Midway through 2015, the team traded Alex Wood. After the season, they dealt Andrelton Simmons and then Shelby Miller. The only notable names remaining from Wren’s time were Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran.

Two years after the regime change, I wanted to evaluate their efforts. But first, I needed metrics. How does one evaluate a rebuild? After pondering the subject, I landed on three aspects: team run differential, time, and payroll flexibility. Below I discuss how the Braves are doing in these areas.

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Two Ways Dansby Swanson Is Being Pitched Like a Slugger

Dansby Swanson is dapper. Dansby Swanson is exciting. Dansby Swanson should have great plate discipline and a good hit tool. And Dansby Swanson is a major leaguer. These things are all true. Dansby Swanson may also be a slugger in the future, but he’s not yet. That’s weird, though, because he’s being pitched like a slugger in two key ways.

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Scouting Julio Teheran, Major-League Starter

Leading up to the trade deadline, there was quite a bit of discussion at this website about Atlanta RHP Julio Teheran regarding his value and whether or not it was prudent for the Braves to move him at this juncture. I was often asked in chats about what I thought about the situation, Teheran’s value, etc. I responded that, going forward, I thought Teheran was a league-average starter, a No. 4 worth around two wins annually. There was some adverse reaction to that, which is understandable given that Teheran has made two All-Star teams before turning 26 and had already contributed about 2 WAR this season when I opined. Conversely, he’s also got a career FIP approaching 4.00 and has seen a drop in his average fastball velocity this year.

The Braves came through Arizona for a four-game set with the Diamondbacks last week and I was in attendance for Teheran’s start on Wednesday to get an in-person look at an arm that has undergone a substantial metamorphosis since his days as a prospect and one that will likely be on the market this winter. I try to hit a major-league game every now and then, just to remind myself for what I’m supposed to be looking in the prospects I see. I thought evaluating Teheran would make for an interesting piece, so I did it.

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Projecting Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves Cornerstone

Last night, Dansby Swanson, 2015’s first overall pick, debuted for the Atlanta Braves. After destroying High-A pitching to the tune of .333/.441/.562 in April, Swanson spent 84 games at the Double-A level. He hit a less exciting, but still respectable .261/.342/.411 at the latter stop.

During his brief stay in the minors, Swanson didn’t stand out in any particular area offensively, but was better than average across the board. He posted a healthy 11% walk rate this season, a .151 ISO, and made enough contact (recording an 18% strikeout rate) for it not to be a concern. Even his 13 steals indicate a guy who’s fast, if not exceptionally fast.

Swanson is a good hitter, but his bat alone doesn’t make him a particularly exciting prospect. What really sets him apart is that he’s a good hitter who also happens to play a mean shortstop. Eric Longenhagen noted yesterday that he thinks Swanson will be a plus defender at short. The data support that observation. In just 105 minor-league games at short this year, he’s been a +19 defender according to Clay Davenport’s model.

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Scouting Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves Cornerstone

Just fourteen months after having been selected first overall in the draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Dansby Swanson is making his Major League debut for the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday. While Swanson doesn’t have a robust collection of plus tools and won’t be setting the National League ablaze with top-of-the scale speed or monster raw power, his skillset is air tight with nothing but the smallest of nits to pick. Combined with his ability to play most valuable of position in baseball, Swanson should provide All Star-level value for the Braves. Read the rest of this entry »

Trade Deadline 2016 Omnibus Post

As it has been the past few years, the 2016 non-waiver trade deadline brought about a flurry of activity that was hard to keep up with even if it was the only thing you were doing. Since most of us have other things that we have to or would like to occupy our time with, we figured we would save you some hassle and create an omnibus post with all of our trade deadline content so that you have it all in one place. For clarity’s sake, I’m going to limit this to articles about trades that actually took place.

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Padres, Braves Exchange Toxic Assets

Note: this is all pending physicals, so

Follow-up note: physicals complete! Trade official. Update included at the very bottom.

Usually, we’re at least able to focus on the baseball side of things. Even though we all recognize that baseball is a business, we’ve gotten good at ignoring that part, focusing on the more baseball-y parts of player transactions. Business matters some in the Mark Melancon trade, but it seems mostly about the Nationals getting a good closer, and the Pirates getting some longer-term pieces. You know, baseball stuff. We’re all in it for the baseball stuff, after all, because the business part is seldom entertaining.

The Padres and Braves have made a business move. Oh, sure, there’s a baseball side, kind of. The Braves must see something in Matt Kemp, something they didn’t see in Hector Olivera. To help cover some of Kemp’s remaining cost, the Padres are reportedly including $10 – 12 million. It would be possible to look at this and think only about the roster implications. But this is mostly just a money move, and from where I sit, the Padres are coming out ahead.

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Scouting New Braves Prospect Travis Demeritte

The Atlanta Braves have turned one player they claimed off of waivers and another they signed to a minor-league deal into a prospect who appeared in this month’s Futures Game. Even if one is skeptical of that prospect, as I am, acquiring a tooled-up middle infielder for two pieces you acquired at next to no cost represents a success for the rebuilding Braves. The newly acquired Travis Demeritte has an interesting set of tools undermined by one potentially fatal flaw that, if remedied, could make him a valuable everyday player.

Demeritte, who turns 22 in September, is hitting .272/.352/.583 with 25 home runs at High-A High Desert. He was suspended for 80 games in 2015 for use of a banned substance, the masking agent Furosemide. He also had a 25-homer season at Hickory in 2014. Both Hickory and High Desert, along with most of the rest of the Cal League, are power paradises. A study done by Baseball America’s Matt Eddy in 2015 found those two affiliates to be the most homer-friendly parks in there respective leagues. Though Demeritte has plus raw power projection, I think it’s fair to be skeptical of his in-game power performance’s sustainability.

The raw pop comes primarily from Demeritte’s plus bat speed and a big back-side collapse that creates uppercut in his swing. His footwork is aggressive and noisy and at times he strides down the third-base side, leaving him vulnerable on the outer half, though he’s still able to take the ball the other way exclusively with his hands. He has 11 opposite-field home runs so far this season, according to

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Projecting New Braves Prospect Travis Demeritte

A cursory glance at Travis Demeritte‘s stat line might lead one to think the he’s an offensive beast. He’s hit a powerful .272/.352/.583 at High-A this year, on the strength of an impressive 25 homers. In addition to his offensive exploits, he’s also swiped 13 bases and played solid defense at second base.

But there’s one bad attribute that largely outweighs all the good stuff: his 33% strikeout rate. Demeritte suffers from chronic contact problems, which have led to problematic strikeout rates ever since the Rangers took him in the first round back in 2013. Though he has the eighth-best wRC+ in High-A this year, he also has the fourth-worst strikeout rate. The latter suggests he’ll have a tough time replicating the former against more advanced pitching.

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Rangers Land Potential Relief Ace

An afternoon trade went down between the Rangers and the Braves. One very much legitimate way of thinking about it: Lucas Harrell isn’t very good, but the back of the Rangers’ rotation lately has been terrible, and this just goes to show how the market for any half-decent starting pitcher right now is inflated. While Travis Demeritte isn’t a top-10 prospect or anything, he is a former first-rounder having a breakthrough season in High-A. Not a lot of available 21-year-olds with that sort of power. Good get for the Braves, considering they just added Harrell for practically nothing a couple months ago.

Another very much legitimate way of thinking about it: The Rangers didn’t want to pay the high price for an established relief arm, so they found an alternative route, landing in Dario Alvarez a potential front-line lefty bullpen weapon. Harrell gets attention as the starter with experience, and Demeritte gets attention as the prospect stepping forward, but Alvarez might be a hell of a pitcher, considering you might not have ever heard of him.

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Mike Foltynewicz Is Almost There

Earlier today I wrote about how the Braves should feel motivated to trade Julio Teheran, given all of the circumstances of the market. I believe what I said in that post, and I do think that, from a rational perspective, the time now is right to sell Teheran while he’s cruising. That all being said, this is sports, and at the core of this whole endeavor, there are fans, fans driven mostly by emotions. You know who likes Julio Teheran? Braves fans. You know who likes young, home-grown, up-and-coming players? Fans of teams like the Braves. Sure, it makes sense to sell high on Teheran. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. Losing sucks, and it makes a team do sucky things.

One way to feel better about this stuff, though, is to shift focus. Teheran has been a good young pitcher on a team that hasn’t had enough good young players. That’s part of why trading him would be painful. He’s not alone, however. There’s been a little bit of concern over who would start the game to open the new park next year, if Teheran goes away. Looks like there could be a fine internal option. If you want to think about the next No. 1 of the Braves, might I interest you in Mike Foltynewicz?

Foltynewicz has been a prospect for a long time because of his big and powerful fastball. Like many pitchers known mostly for big and powerful fastballs, Foltynewicz has a history of throwing an insufficient number of strikes. He was a part of the Astros’ trade for Evan Gattis, and back then, it was unclear whether Foltynewicz would be a starter or a reliever. He’s been with the Braves now for a year and a half.

To get to the point fast, two tables. One metric I like to play around with is a pitcher’s rate of pitches thrown while ahead in the count. Sure, strike rate works fine enough, but I like thinking in these terms. Let’s look at Foltynewicz’s last few seasons.

Mike Foltynewicz’s Developing Command
Split Ahead% League Ahead% Difference
2013 AA 33% 36% -3%
2014 AAA 34% 35% -1%
2014 MLB 35% 37% -2%
2015 AAA 39% 35% 4%
2015 MLB 39% 37% 2%
2016 MLB 44% 37% 7%
SOURCE: StatCorner

Foltynewicz was traded in January 2015. Before that, in the upper levels with the Astros, Foltynewicz threw a below-average rate of pitches while ahead in the count. As a Brave, Foltynewicz has moved forward, and he’s done so this year in a big way. How big? Well:

Top 10 Ahead Rates
Pitcher Ahead%
Mike Foltynewicz 44.2%
Clayton Kershaw 43.6%
Steven Matz 43.2%
Max Scherzer 43.1%
Noah Syndergaard 41.8%
Michael Pineda 41.7%
Collin McHugh 41.6%
John Lackey 41.5%
David Price 41.4%
Jordan Zimmermann 41.4%
SOURCE: StatCorner
Starting pitchers only, minimum of 500 pitches thrown.

This is just a snapshot in time, and between now and the end of the year, some numbers will shift around, but here you see Foltynewicz in the big-league lead. He’s thrown a greater rate of pitches while ahead in the count than anybody else, given the same role, and when you do that you give yourself a hell of an advantage. Foltynewicz keeps hitters on the defensive, and he’s doing this as a starter, a starter who the other day lasted 107 pitches. This isn’t the guy the Astros traded. This is a guy that guy could’ve become, but usually, pitchers stop short of developing this successfully.

It’s not like he’s an ace now. There’s polishing yet to be done, as Foltynewicz looks to get hitters to more often expand their zones. As has been the case for a while, he could stand to improve the secondary stuff. And! Bone chips. Foltynewicz is pitching with bone chips. But just look at where things are: Foltynewicz is a 24-year-old who can buzz triple digits, and he’s now frequently getting ahead in the count. More than ever before, Mike Foltynewicz is looking like he’s in command. The Braves have been collecting big arms with big risks. Here’s one that’s working out.

The Braves Should Be Motivated to Trade Julio Teheran

Let’s be clear about the reality of baseball trades. Despite all of the rumors and all of the posturing, every team has the same stance on just about every player: The player is available for trade, given a good-enough offer. That second part is where it gets complicated, because “good enough” can mean very different things. Not all teams value all players in the same way, so when you’re trading, you’re looking for guys who might be undervalued, or you’re looking to move guys who might be overvalued. Ultimately, though, all you need is a match. When you have a match, you have a trade, no matter what’s been said to the public.

What the Braves have said to the public is that they’re not real interested in trading Julio Teheran. They’ve said this on multiple occasions, in response to rumors that would have Teheran joining any number of current contenders. The point the Braves are effectively getting across is that they’re not motivated to move Teheran. They want other teams to know they value him highly. And, you know, they should! Good pitcher. Good contract. He shouldn’t be cheap to acquire, but at the same time, I don’t think the Braves should be that interested in holding steady. The present market circumstances might never repeat.

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The Adjustments That Made the All-Stars

Most All-Stars weren’t born into baseball this way. Most of them had to alter their approach, or their mechanics, in order to find that a-ha moment. They threw a pitch differently, or decided to pull the ball more, or changed their swing, and then found a run of sustained success that put them in the All-Star game that’s being played tonight.

So, given fairly fettered access to the All-Stars from both leagues, that was the question I posed: what was the big adjustment, mechanical or approach-wise, that brought you to this podium today?

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How Good Is Julio Teheran?

Atlanta’s ace, Julio Teheran, has a career 3.34 ERA, a good mark even for this pitching-friendly era. This year’s numbers, at least in some ways, are the best of his career. He’s a 25-year-old with less than $30 million in guaranteed money remaining on his contract, which runs through 2020 if you count the low-cost team option for that season. If the Braves make him available before the deadline, he’d instantly become one of the most valuable assets on the market.

But is Teheran an ace, like the Braves are likely to price him? Or is he more of a good pitcher on a nice run? Since assuming regular major-league duties in 2013, he’s 44th in pitching Wins Above Replacement despite being 11th in innings pitched, as he’s accrued value by staying healthy and racking up innings, but not dominating in the traditional walk, strikeout, and home run categories.

But this year, once again, Teheran is dealing, and he’s doing so without strikeout, walk, or home-run rates that would appear on the first page of each leaderboard. For teams hoping to acquire the Braves ace, they’ve got to be wondering who he will be on their team; the guy who looks great by ERA or the guy who looks like an innings-eater by FIP?

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Freddie Freeman’s Delicate Balance of Power and Contact

Last week, I wrote about the dearth of production at the first-base position this season. In the piece, I highlighted Wil Myers as one of the few, young beacons of hope at the position and mentioned a few other young stars, but there was one notable guy I failed to mention: the Braves’ sole star-caliber position player, 26-year-old first baseman Freddie Freeman. It wasn’t a slight on my part, but instead was a side effect of my awareness that Freeman was worthy of an entire post of his own. Well, the time has come. Let’s take a look at Freddie Freeman.

Freeman’s 2016 season started unbearably slowly. After homering in his first at-bat of the season, he went on to accumulate just two more extra-base hits – both doubles – over his next 81 plate appearances. After play on April 26th, he’d recorded a miserable 65 wRC+ and had been bumped down in the batting order from his typical spot in the three-hole. Fortunately for the Braves — who have Freeman under contract for $106.5 million from 2017 to 2021 — Freeman’s season quickly began to turn around. Entering play on Tuesday night, he had posted a .307/.379/.571 slash line — good for a 151 wRC+ — ever since his statistical nadir on April 26th.

His offensive production during the month of June has been among the best in the majors and has led to Freeman currently sporting the highest ISO figure (.211) of his career. On the strength of his power surge, it might appear that Freeman is well on his way to another predictably strong season, but it must be noted that not all indicators are trending in the right direction for Freeman.

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Braves, Rangers Indicate No End to Publicly Funded Stadiums

Baltimore’s Camden Yards opened to almost universal praise in 1992. The success of the park and its broad appeal spurred the development of new stadiums throughout baseball. Since the construction of Camden Yards, 21 of the league’s 30 franchises have received new stadiums, while eight others have undergone renovations (sorry, Tampa Bay). In Cleveland, they’ve seen both occur.

Averaging roughly one new stadium per year has been great for business, as attendance has gone up across the league and the old unsightly multipurpose stadiums have been retired. It would be reasonable to think, however, that such a boom in stadium construction would naturally result in an equally steep decline. There are, of course, only so many clubs for which to build new park. Reason isn’t always at play in such cases, however. Both the Braves’ relocation to a new home next year — and a recent announcement by the Rangers that they plan to build a new air-conditioned ballpark just 20-some years after debuting the old one — should solidify that notion for us. As long as they create profits for ownership, stadium building, renovations, and fights for public money will never end.

Baseball is a business, and franchise owners acts as corporate heads looking to extract money and increase profits wherever they can. Getting the public to fund a stadium is a very big part of that and most owners have been incredibly successful in this regard. Of all the news stadiums built in this era, only the San Francisco Giants privately funded their stadium, with the St. Louis Cardinals representing the only other club to account for a significant portion of their stadium’s expense. In most cases, we’ve seen public fights, with threats to relocate elsewhere — sometimes to another city and sometimes just to a neighboring suburb. We’ve seen this play out recently in the case of both the Braves and the Rangers — and, despite all of the new stadiums, we’re not done seeing it.

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Best Final Seasons, Part One

A few years back, I wrote a fourpart series about the worst final seasons for good players. It was inspired by Willie Mays, who very prominently had a bad final season, but was far from the worst season. Now, David Ortiz has inspired the flip side of the coin – the best final season. The Large Father is off to quite a hot start, and so some people have asked, how good does he have to be to produce the best final season of all-time? As you’ll see, the answer is he’ll have to do quite a lot.

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Saying Nice Things About A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski has played baseball for a very long time. He’s one of the few players to predate not only the PITCHf/x era (2007-present), but also the Baseball Info Solutions era (2002-present). He’s one of just six active players who played in the 1990s — the others are Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Bartolo Colon, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. They are all well celebrated and beloved players. Pierzynski does not fit in that group.

If you’re familiar with Pierzynski, you likely know that his opponents generally have not been all that fond of him. A Google search for “A.J. Pierzynski hate” turns up plenty of results. Rather than focus on that, I thought it would be fun to find some nice to things to say about Pierzynski.

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